Despite a tumultuous year for the world's elites, the wealthiest people on earth still managed to end 2016 with $237 billion (NZ$340 billion) more than they had at the start.

Global markets were shaken by disappointing economic data from China early in the year, Britain's vote to leave the European Union in June, and Donald Trump's shock election win in November.

According to Bloomberg, the net worth of the world's wealthiest people fluctuated greatly over 2016, with more than US$600 billion difference between the year's high and low.

On aggregate, though, they became 5.7 per cent richer and trading closed on December 27 with the world's billionaires worth US$4.4 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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Warren Buffett led the pack, adding US$11.8 billion to his fortune during the year and maintaining his position as the world's second richest person. His investment firm Berkshire Hathaway saw its airline and banking holdings soar after Trump's surprise victory, Bloomberg reported.

Americans accounted for four of the five biggest increases on the index, including the richest of them all, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who is worth a total of US$91.5 billion.

France's Bernard Arnault was the sole non-American among the five best performers in 2016, adding US$7.1 billion to take his fortune to US$38.9 billion.

Simon Smiles, chief investment officer for ultra-high-net-worth clients at UBS Wealth
Management, told Bloomberg the company's clients generally rode through the year's volatility.

"2016 ended up being a spectacular year for risk assets. Pretty remarkable given the start of the year," he said.

China has 31 billionaires on the index with US$262 billion, trailing the US, which has 179 billionaires who control US$1.9 trillion, and Germany, whose 39 individuals have US$281 billion.